When one mentions the imagery of skeleton bones, it is not unlikely to immediately associate the suggestion with Halloween. After all, when else are we most likely to come in contact with skeleton props such as Halloween skulls and skeleton decorations?
Skeletons are so often presented to us on this holiday that we often forget that they were originally intended to frighten people, reminding them of the end we all face. Certainly the idea of fleshless human bones walking about is easily understood as to how it became a popular decoration on the day we dedicate to the dead – Halloween.
However, when it comes to death, many other cultures around the world believe that to pay homage to or celebrate the dead is neither sad nor frightening. Instead, for many of them, it is to recognize the ancestors of the past as a positive and glorious celebration of their once lived lives and influence.
In the Brittany region of France, All Souls Day is a day in which people head to the cemeteries in order to pray for the souls of their ancestors. They do this at a place known as the “Place of Bones”. Here, the remains of people passed on many years ago are found laid to rest together inside a single tomb. The living who seek out the site to visit, wander along the entrance holding out their hands to the rows of skulls so that they may touch the bones. By doing this, they believe they stay connected to their ancestors of so long ago.
In Mexico, a holiday similar to what we know as Christmas is called the Day of the Dead. If you happen to be in Mexico at this time, you won’t see what we might normally consider a Halloween skeleton but you will see a bevy of cheerful street vendors happily selling brightly decorated and colorful toy skeletons adorned in outfits you might otherwise find on dolls. At first, they may seem like rather morbid toys for children to an American. However, in Mexico this is all done in good fun as a ritual used to honor their ancestors.
Similarly in China, the Ghost Festival is held in anticipation of the spirits and ghosts of the dead that are said to come out amongst the living. While it is highly unlikely that you will see anything resembling a Halloween skeleton costume, according to the Chinese, you could come face to face with a real an actual ghost! Something most likely considered far more chilling than a few plastic Halloween skulls lining someone’s driveway.